Wild Oats XI set a new course record in the 73rd running of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race, knocking nearly five hours off the previous mark. But the skipper and crew aboard the supermaxi barely had time to celebrate the win.
Race organizers stripped Wild Oats of line honors following a protest by initial runner-up Comanche. The protest stemmed from a near collision between the two yachts shortly after departing Sydney, Australia, the day before.
An international jury cited Wild Oats for failing to keep clear while tacking, Reuters reported. The panel issued a one-hour penalty against Wild Oats, which completed the 629-nm course in one day, eight hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds — some 26 minutes ahead of Comanche.
Wild Oats’ adjusted time was one day, nine hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds, roughly 33 minutes behind Comanche, with a time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds.
The penalty caused some controversy that spilled into social media, with some believing Wild Oats’ maneuver was legal and others suggesting the vessel made a clear error.
“While we are disappointed by today’s outcome, we respect the decision of the jury and would like to congratulate Comanche on taking line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,” Wild Oats officials said on Facebook of the penalty.
More than 100 yachts participated in the annual Sydney to Hobart race, which began Dec. 26, 2017, from Sydney Harbor. Yachts follow the Australian coast south then cross the Bass Strait before turning into River Derwent and finishing at Constitution Dock in Hobart,Tasmania.
Comanche led for much of the contest. According to published accounts, light winds in River Derwent allowed Wild Oats to overtake its rival.
“We just managed to slip past them,” Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards told reporters after finishing in Hobart, “and here we are.”
Asked about a possible penalty, Richards described the incident in Sydney Harbor as “totally innocent.”
“We did exactly what we had to do in that situation to keep the boat safe and in one piece, and that is what we did,” Richards continued. “If those guys want to protest that situation, it’s their call.”
Attempts to reach Comanche skipper and co-owner Jim Cooney weren’t successful. Cooney told reporters he felt vindicated by the jury’s decision.
“I didn’t expect to protest in order to win the race, it was all about our actions to avoid a collision and the fact that was necessary,” Cooney said, according to Reuters. “I feel the rules are there to protect people’s lives and if we can’t rely on that then there is a difficulty in the sport.”
Wild Oats and Comanche weren’t the only vessels to finish ahead of the previous record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds. Black Jack, InfoTrack and Beau Geste also beat the prior fastest time.
Ichi Ban, a TP52 owned by Matt Allen, finished seventh overall in one day, 19 hours, 10 minutes and 20 seconds but was declared the handicap winner. Wizard, skippered by Americans David and Peter Askew, finished fifth in line honors.